Book Review: “Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson” by Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow

Up Jumped the Devil Robert Johnson Conforth Wardlow“Robert Johnson”

“World’s greatest blues guitarist”

“Went to the crossroads and sold his soul to the devil to play the blues.”

These are the things I had heard over the years, but not being into the blues, I had no idea who Robert Johnson was…and this lead me to buy Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson by Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow last week and read it in 3 days. It was published in 2021 and just 270 pages (without including bibliography and index).

I’ll admit, I’ve never been a fan of the blues, though a lot of people will say it’s the roots of rock n roll. But after spending years hearing about a mysterious blues artist from the Mississippi Delta that was so good, people said he had to have gotten his skills by hoodoo or the Devil, the only way to find out for myself was to find the best book written about him. And from this list of awards this book has won, I think this one is it.

The Mississippi Delta wasn’t an easy place to grow up in the 1920’s and 30’s. Most black families were sharecroppers working for plantation owners. On the weekends, though, these hard working people would find their release at balls or jukes (without or with alcohol, respectively), dancing and listening to music. This is where Robert Johnson was born in 1911. But he wanted no part of farming, he just wanted to play music. He’d sneak out and sit outside jukes at night just to hear the music. At 11, he built himself a diddly bow on the side of the family shack (strings connected between 2 nails on the side of a house), just so he could play.  Not long afterward, his sister bought him his first guitar and from that moment on, he study and played wherever he could, learning from anyone who could teach him.

How good was Robert Johnson? Listen to Dead Shrimp Blues….a song that people have insisted there was no way one man was playing…there had to be 2 guitar players, they said. But there wasn’t….this was Robert Johnson:

Robert Johnson loved women almost as much his guitar. Families would hide their daughters when they saw Robert coming…”He plays that devil music!” He would be married twice and widowed twice by the age of 25. And just when the time had come for him to become a major musical force at age 27, he was poisoned by the husband of one of his lovers.

Did he sell his soul at the crossroads? Well, this book sets out to find out the true story behind this legend…a man who influenced Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin. Well researched, the authors have found more details about this man of mystery…a man who they say would turn his back when playing his guitar, so no one could see how he formed his chords. Now, it’s your turn to decide…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beetles!







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And the winner is…

Before I disclose the winner, I have to tell you that a funny thing happened on my way to the poll results this a.m. As I’m drinking my coffee and wiping the sand from my eyes, I notice an email with the subject line “Winner?” in my inbox. The email starts off with “Dead Beatles Freak,” Ummm…err…I think they meant “Dear Beatles Freak”, but then again, I could be wrong. After wishing me a happy new year, this person informs me that my poll did not close at 11:59 p.m. and included a snapshot of the results at oo:oo hours! The interesting thing was that the email itself was time stamped at 7:06 p.m.! LOL Sorry, Dead Follower, that’s not how these things work. The poll was set to close, and did close, at 11:59 p.m. (ET).

It was a tight race and a real nail biter over the past several weeks, but here are the results:

A Women's History of the beatles Christine Feldman-BarrettCongratulations to Christine Feldman-Barrett and her book A Women’s History of the Beatles! If you’re curious about this book, Amy Hughes reviewed it earlier this year…you can read it here.

And congratulations to all the authors who put out such fantastic books this year about the Fab Four.

If you’re curious as to what “Other” books were nominated, here’s the list:

The Lyrics by Paul McCartney

Get Back by The Beatles

Mach Schau! : Die Beatles in Hamburg by Thomas Rehwagen

Rivals of the Beatles by Martin Orkin

Little Wing by Paul Salley

It’s All in the Mind: Inside the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine by Robert R Hieronimus

All Things Must Pass Away: Harrison, Clapton, and Other Assorted Love Songs by Kenneth Womack


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OT Book Review: “DeadStar: Who the Hell was Garth Tyson?” by Nick Griffiths

Deadstar Who the hell was Garth Tyson Nick GriffithsA couple times a year, I get emails from authors asking me to review their book. Most of the time the book has nothing to do with music, let alone the Beatles and I graciously decline for those reasons. As a part-time publicist, I understand how hard it is to get someone to notice your book, especially if it’s self-published. So when the request came to read DeadStar: Who the Hell was Garth Tyson? by Nick Griffiths, I accepted the opportunity. And hell, the author was very charming…even via email!

This book is due to be released on January 25, 2022 and I really hope it becomes a hit. It’s the oral history of a fictional defunct Punk/New Wave band who’s lead singer/songwriter, Garth Tyson, disappeared decades ago after walking off the stage at the Glastonbury Festival in the mid 1980s. (And just a heads-up: the Beatles are mentioned several times throughout and Garth shares his birthday with George Harrison.) The characters are quite amusing and you can’t help but see a resemblance between some of them to the members of Spinal Tap (Yeah, it’s that funny) as they tell a reporter the band’s history up until Garth’s disappearance.

It took me several pages to get the gist of the way this book is constructed into its conversational format…sometimes getting confused between the reporter’s inner dialog, thoughts, and the conversation with those he’s interviewing. But once you get used to it along with the various British accents and idioms, the story will flow and you’ll have a hard time putting it down until you find out…What happened to Garth Tyson?! And for that reason…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beetles!





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OT Book Review: “Brat: An ’80s Story” by Andrew McCarthy

Brat an 80s story Andrew McCarthyAgain, while on Amazon, I was taken in by another of their suggestions. I was just a couple years younger than Andrew McCarthy and the rest of the Brat Pack in their heyday! So of course I had to buy a (used) copy of Brat: An ’80s Story by Andrew McCarthy and I also sent a new copy to by my bestie Lisa (we’ve been friends since 8th grade math class!). Who among my generation of young women of the ’80s didn’t have a crush on Andrew?!

This 215 page memoir was released May 2021. It’s takes a bit to get going and I had my doubts about it for the first 40 or so pages. For some people Andrew’s growing up in the burbs of New Jersey may be interesting, but as a former Jersey girl it was a bit of a yawn for me. Dysfunctional family? 🗹 Bad grades? 🗹 Pain in ass the brothers? 🗹 Middle child? 🗹

But Andrew did something I didn’t do…left home for college. Despite his father’s objections, he set out to become an actor…and well, we all know how that turned out. I wouldn’t call his life story dramatic or different in anyway for other famous people. He did the drugs and drinking like many youngsters of the ’80s when everything was BIG and done to excess (I mean seriously, I tell every young person, “It was the best decade. So. Much. Fun!”), but Andrew did it with an aloofness, loneliness and no real desire to ‘fit in’ despite being labelled as one of the Brat Pack. He preferred New York City to Hollywood, but is still able to tell some really amazing insider stories during his time in Tinsel Town and behind the scene info on Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire, Less Than Zero and Weekend at Bernie’s. And…of course, as is required of all books by the rich and famous, we get to hear how he lost his virginity! (Has anyone written a book yet with all the lost virginity stories of the rich and famous?)

I swoon every time he appears on screen…and making me kinda sorry I didn’t get a signed copy of this book at Premier Collectibles, but I think my children would have a “Who the hell is Andrew McCarthy?” moment after I pass I away! He belongs to my generation…it was the ’80s…we were all BRATS!

andrew mccarthy and James Spader pretty in pink | Andrew mccarthy, James spader movies, James spaderMcCarthy has moved on to TV directing in shows such as Orange is the New Black and Blacklist. (The Blacklist connection with his old pal James Spader from Pretty in Pink is interesting because unlike McCarthy, Spader will not talk about that film!) If you’re interested (maybe not?), Andrew McCarthy has actually written two other books (one on travel and one a young adult novel) that were New York Times bestsellers (who knew?!). You can find them on Amazon.

Ya know…who cares about the book…

I rate Andrew McCarthy, 4 Beetles + the Golden Beetle!






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OT Book Review: “A Quiet Madness: A Biographical Novel of Edgar Allan Poe” by John Isaac Jones

A Quiet Madness: A Biographical Novel of Edgar Allan Poe" by John Isaac Jones

It’s been a while since I did a Beatles related review, but I just couldn’t resist buying and reading A Quiet Madness: A Biographical Novel of Edgar Allan Poe by John Isaac Jones when I heard about it! I had to put down my Beatles book and dive into this.

If I haven’t said it before (and I’m sure I have), I have a strange addiction to biographical fiction written about Edgar Allan Poe. At the end of this review, I’ll list the books I’ve read in case any of you are interested. And if any of you know of any good ones, I’d love to hear about them.

Unlike a lot of the novels about Poe, this one is more focused on Poe himself. The others have mostly been stories that fit his life into their fictitious story. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. While keeping 99% of the dates correct for major occurrences, it leaves the reader to guess what’s fact and what’s fiction. Obviously, the conversations are conjecture, but how about the characters?

Author John Isaac Jones portrays Virginia Poe as a healthy and happy girl while others have said she was a gangly, sickly girl. He kills off Edgar’s friend/colleague Rufus Griswold before Poe dies, even though history tells us that Rufus wrote a scathing obituary of after Edgar’s death. When you change history, misinformation and rumors are spread.

Note: this book is also self-published and could have used a really good editor to fix the typos!

Even though I couldn’t put this book down because I’m such a Poe addict, it did leave me scratching my head a bit. I’m all for historical fiction, until you change history. Then it becomes fan fiction…of which I’m no fan! And for that reason…

I rate this book, 2 out of 4 Beetles!




Edgar Allan Poe historical fiction books that I would recommend:

The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl

For Edgar by Sheldon Rusch

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2021 Beatles Freak Holiday Wish List…

Tis the season…

The reviewers at Beatles Freak Reviews thought we’d try something new for the season of giving! We’ve thought long and hard and come up with our own Bealtely lists of Want, Need, Wear, Read – the idea being that you limit your giving to just four items from each category: Something you Want, Something you Need, Something you Wear and Something you Read. Here are my and Amy’s lists…

…and if you leave your own Want, Need, Wear, Read list in the comments, you’ll be entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card and a Beatles Freak Reviews t-shirt! Winner will be chosen at 7 a.m. (et) Wednesday, December 15, 2021. One entry per person.

Jenn’s list:

Want: A Paul McCartney signature tattoo. (This could actually fit into all four categories!) This is a rare item now that Paul has decided that he’s no longer giving autographs, but before I die, I’d really love to have him sign me!

Need: To go to Liverpool! How can I really consider myself a Beatles aficionado when I haven’t been to Liverpool. But right now, between the pandemic and the price to fly into John Lennon Airport, it’s really not feasible.

Wear: I’m all about being cozy-comfy. And what better way to spend my leisure time than in a pair of Beatles themed loungewear pants! And I just love the placement of the Fab Four on these Sgt. Pepper pants! And there is a matching image place appropriately on the arse too!

Read: I actually tend to avoid the obvious books that everyone else feels the need to buy, read and review. I like to find older books or lesser known authors to read. But The Lyrics by Paul McCartney is absolutely the exception to this rule. I can’t wait to get my hands on my own copy to display proudly with my Beatles book collection!

Amy’s List:

WantPaul McCartney to tour in support of ‘The Lyrics’. Sure these books weigh more than 2 planets combined, but to have these volumes of work (from a perspective that is all HIS own), is definitely worth a want.

Need – More hours in the day to read all the Beatles and Beatles-related books that are published! I never foresaw how many authors pour out the fabness since I started reviewing. It’s a labor of love for everybody and every word that goes out to the page. I truly appreciate all the work – when I can find another couple of days to make it happen – that would be a miracle and need.

Wear – John Lennon’s rainbow-striped shirt from the ‘Get Back’ docuseries. Since Peter Jackson upped the vibrancy, every single frame jumps out. Lennon’s shirt was literally the first thing I became addicted to from the ‘Get Back’ series.
***Note from Jenn: Someone created a replica of it…here!


Read – Every single Beatles and Beatles-related book publishing in 2022! Yep, another wish list I could just kick back with for another 365 days. I have no qualms with length or depth. Just that ole time factor… I’d love to wring out every second if I could!
***A note from Jenn: Well Amy…here’s a list of Beatles books that you and everyone else can look forward to reading in 2022 according to Amazon!

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OT Book Review: “These Five Words Are Mine” by Jennifer Lynne Croneberger

These five words are mine jennifer cronebergerA little over a month ago, I attended a local women’s event called Lifting Your V.O.I.C.E. (don’t ask me what the acronym stands for…I don’t know). I had heard about this event for a couple of years and in fact, I worked through a temp agency as a server at the country club where the event was held in previous years. I had hoped that I would be called up to work the event, but that never happened, so this year, I decided to cough up the money and go it alone. The event is hosted by local news anchor Tracy Davidson and motivational speaker Jennifer Croneberger. I decided to get a copy of Jenn’s book –  These Five Words Are Mine: Conversations With Life. My Journey to Awareness . . . Five Words at a Time after spending the morning listening to her speak.

It’s taken me a couple days of thought to figure out how I want to approach reviewing this book. That’s not a bad thing…and it’s not necessarily a good thing. I can’t even think of what category to put this book in…autobiography? self-help? enlightenment? Let’s just go with ‘all of the above.’

Jen Croneberger knew from a very young age that she wanted to write and publish a book and finally in her 30s she got around to achieving that goal. The book is a collection of 60 posts from her personal blog where she explores and examines her life experiences from the past and present.

Is this a feel good book? Yes, but it also made me angry at times. I’d put it down for days and eventually pick it back up again and only to find another beautiful story from her life’s journey.  The book will make you reflect on your own life choices and how you approach various situations in your own life.

Confused? I can’t find the right words to tell you about Jen and what she stands for, so here is a video of her giving one of her TEDx talks:

These Five Words Are Mine is a book you will read and then want your friends to read and probably like me, you won’t know why…but you’ll just know that more people need to connect with Jennifer Croneberger and her work. And for that reason…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beetles!






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Book Review: “What They Heard: How The Beatles, Beach Boys and Bob Dylan Listened To Each Other and Changed Music Forever” by Luke Meddings

What They Heard: How The Beatles, Beach Boys and Bob Dylan Listened To Each Other and Changed Music Forever Luke Meddings

An astounding thought crosses the mind when even thinking about the title of Luke Meddings’ book. The metaphorical and analytical analysis of these three entities has been decades in the making.

In What They Heard: How The Beatles, Beach Boys and Bob Dylan Listened To Each Other and Changed Music Forever (Weatherglass Books, 2021), Meddings has unfolded a heartfelt dissertation on how the three B’s (and for contextual purposes, he also includes the fourth B – The Byrds), with minute clarity, couched in appreciation with the subjects at hand.

Each set out on their own path, yet within the circumstances of the ‘60s music and art scene, diverged at various points along the way. This isn’t a highbrow, how-the-stars-and-planets -aligned tome. It points to the inevitable for the times: Dylan breaking the barriers of folk and be damned; The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson as the troubled genius who saw beyond the accepted musical norms and finally The Beatles whose presence not only affected the aforementioned but occupied a massive, revered space that neither they nor anyone could have foreseen.

The hindsight for this book proves entirely relevant as Meddings intersects the creative influences of that time with the development of his own understanding of musical composition and theory. Translated: he gets us to the core of why we love those unexpected chord changes, why we hear something different every time we listen to every song. And why getting a handle on a note from ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ to ‘Good Vibrations’  to ‘Paperback Writer’ leaves us more confused than ever.

One overall aspect here are the underdogs in this character study: the members of The Byrds. The scattershot pickings when viewed from afar (covering Dylan, influencing George Harrison, conflicting integrations and genres that were amplified by Wilson) is indeed intriguing. I found entire backstories on the individual members enhanced the merit of their music and needed to be brought forth in the context of this narrative.

But while Meddings sets the needle into the groove of where this all began – the very late 50s to be fair – the crux of this book really centers on Wilson. He is living and breathing music. Not content to play in a band and wear the stereotype facade of the perceived groovy  ‘California lifestyle,’ Wilson reaches for stratospheric goals that as we see moved his mind far beyond what Lennon & Co. were tripping to with recreational drug use.

Wilson and the magnum opus of ‘Pet Sounds’ has of course been acknowledged by McCartney as the trigger for ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ start. Dylan on the other hand – in an oblique way – had already pushed the buttons and pissed off the folk purists with his jump into electric-land. Meddings gives us a view that while there had to be changes coming, the face of folk’s movement didn’t have to be nice or polite or meek. And if Wilson placed his Moog-minded, choral-vocal beauty out there, musicians like McCartney had to step out or be run over.

Meddings does conclude ‘What They Heard’ on what I would consider a downturn. As he ruefully reminisces that the paths of the book’s subjects did not cross over much past their heyday and obviously with the loss of Lennon in 1980, that was put to pasture. He does however lend a bit of spark for Dylan in recent years. While McCartney and Wilson have in varying degrees struggled vocally as they age, Meddings puts forth the fact (and I agree wholeheartedly) that Dylan is the one who has aged the best; growing into his voice – the nasal growl – and his learned historical and extensive references for 2020’s epic 17-minute ‘Murder Most Foul.’ Dylan with all his work is still a hard act to categorize to this day.

Charting the course from 1961-68 gives the reader a concise snapshot of where they all stood – eyeing each other through music, personal connection and as this book notes, how all of those ingredients combined gave us what we have today, most importantly for the better.

I give this book 4 out of 4 beetles.






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Who will win our Best Beatles Book of 2021 poll?

Let’s do it again, Fab Four fans….

It’s that time of year again, Beatles freaks! What was your favorite Beatles related book published this year? Time for all of you to vote in our Best Beatles Book of 2021. The winning book will be featured on our homepage for the entirety of 2022.
If you don’t see your favorite Beatles book from 2021, click on ‘Other’ and add the name and author to our list!
Poll ends on December 31, 2021 at 11:59 p.m.

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The New Yorker (magazine): October 18 & 25, 2021

The New Yorker magazine October 18 2021

So this is another post/review that is all about me clearing off the end table next to our couch. It’s where all the to-be-read Beatles books gather and collect dust until I get around to giving them their proper due.

I don’t subscribe to The New Yorker magazine. Nor would I consider picking it up to just peruse in my spare time, but a couple weeks ago, someone on Facebook mentioned that there was an article written by Paul McCartney about how he came about writing the song Eleanor Rigby. Later that day when I got home from work, there was a copy of the October 18th issue of the magazine. It didn’t match the cover that was posted on Facebook and it was addressed to my darling neighbor Janice. Just as I was about to return it, she dropped by to tell me there was a great Beatles article in it, so she passed it on to me. And subsequently, the next issue with the article by Paul!

**Note: If you click on the magazine covers in this post, it will take you straight to the articles themselves. If you want my opinion (LOL) or want to know how to get yourself actual copies keep reading.

The October 18th article is titled, “Let the Record Show: Paul McCartney’s long and winding road” by David Remnick. It opens with a two page picture of the Beatles planning on the roof of Apple and the article spans 10 pages. I think the most interesting part of the article/interview was hearing about the author going to Paul’s house in the Hamptons for a party he was throwing to preview the new Beatles documentary “Get Back“.

The New Yorker magazine October 25 2021The October 25th article is titled, “Writing Eleanor Rigby: Behind the Beatles’ breakthrough” by Paul McCartney. It’s three page article that spends a lot of time straying from the topic. Not that that is a bad thing when you remember the author is Paul, but it does give the impression that the original story may not have been long enough and they needed filler. Lucky for us…Paul has plenty of great stories for filler.

I poked around the internet looking for places to buy copies of these issues if you’d like to add them to your collection. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that The New Yorker or it’s parent company Conde Naste offer back issues on their website. But it you go to Ebay or Amazon (I did the search for you, just click the links), you can find several people selling their copies. I know that I’ll be stashing my copies away!

Thank you, Janice!



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